Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ashes to Ashes: Home Funeral Workshops Teach Loved Ones to Care for Corpses

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ashes to Ashes: Home Funeral Workshops Teach Loved Ones to Care for Corpses

Article excerpt

Home funerals keep corpses out of morgues

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TORONTO - It's only because Deborah Magdee happened to overhear a radio show two years ago that she left her mother's dead body at home for five days.

The radio segment introduced the Vancouverite to home funerals, where family and friends assume the role of a mortician rather than relying on a morgue. Proponents say it's a cheaper, more intimate experience that can help loved ones with their grief.

At the time, Deborah cared for her mother Elizabeth -- or Baba to the Ukrainian-heritage family. Deborah knew her mom, who suffered from dementia, could die soon.

The more Deborah listened to how the funeral industry handled corpses, the more she wanted to explore the possibility of a home funeral.

"How can I just let these strangers come and take her away and put her in a morgue?" she recalls thinking. "I do not want anybody touching my mom like that."

She turned to Google and found a burgeoning industry. More than 50 home funeral directors work in North America, according to the National Home Funeral Alliance, including Pashta MaryMoon, a death midwife in Victoria.

MaryMoon, who co-founded the Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives, said much of her work is educating people about do-it-yourself funerals.

"It's an old, ancient, forever process that we lost in the 20th century," she said.

MaryMoon helps people navigate the paperwork required when someone dies and teaches home-funeral workshops to go over the logistics of handling a corpse.

"I don't have any issues around being with dead bodies, touching dead bodies," she said. "It's really not that different than caring for a live person."

At her workshops, people learn how to properly wash, dress and move a corpse played by a nearly naked person to best mimic the realities of handling a dead body. She teaches people how to keep a corpse's temperature down, and how to use rice bags and a handkerchief to close the person's eyes without leaving crease marks.

Deborah Magdee attended one of MaryMoon's workshops in August 2014 and then convinced her family to help plan a home funeral for Elizabeth, who died the following March at the age of 86. …

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